From Sun Magazine: Four unforgettable holiday parties

Prominent hosts share the secrets of parties to remember

  • The home of Ted Frankel (left) and his partner, Bill Gilmore. Ted has been collecting art and proudly hangs it all around his house.
The home of Ted Frankel (left) and his partner, Bill Gilmore.… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
November 15, 2012|By Susan Reimer, The Baltimore Sun

Ted Frankel and Bill Gilmore

It would be difficult for even the smartest holiday decorations to compete with the artwork that fills every corner of Ted Frankel's North Calvert Street four-story brownstone. So he and his partner, Bill Gilmore, don't even try.

"This house is so complicated and busy, there really wouldn't be any point," says Frankel, who owns Sideshow, the gift shop at the American Visionary Art Museum. "The guests. That's what we decorate with," he says.

Those who attend their annual holiday party are just as eclectic as the art they have collected during their travels, from the janitors at AVAM to the governor and his wife, Martin and Katie O'Malley.

And though Frankel has been known to spontaneously tell shoppers at Sideshow to come by for the holiday open house, he and Gilmore, head of Baltimore's Office of Promotion and the Arts, invite guests the old-fashioned way: with snail-mailed invitations they design every year.

"The first year we did this," Gilmore says of a tradition that began nine years ago, "everybody brought us wine. Since we weren't planning to open a liquor store, we decided to find a way that somebody could benefit."

Since then, their invitations have asked guests to bring art supplies to donate to Randi Pupkin's Art With a Heart, a nonprofit that brings arts and crafts classes to the neediest people in the city, or supplies for the Maryland SPCA or children's books for Baltimore Reads. This year, they will ask guests to bring art books for the library of the city's new magnet high school, which will focus on design.

Chef Sandy Lawler has free rein to create the menu for the party, with an emphasis on regional foods, such as rockfish and crab. To encourage guests to explore all four floors, which feature an astonishing mix of pop art, Haitian beaded flags and craft art, there are special appetizers and a small bar on each floor.

"If the art doesn't tempt them, the food and drink will," says Frankel.

Stiles Colwill

The Christmas parties at Halcyon Farms, Stiles Colwill's childhood home, get started early. Six weeks early. And in the greenhouse.

That's where he will force dozens of amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs to combine with the truckload of flowers and greens partner Jonathan Gargiulo will bring back from the floral houses in New York City.

The Green Spring Valley horse farm that Colwill inherited will be filled to overflowing with exuberant flower arrangements that rival the beauty of the antiques, silver, fabric and art nearby.

But the house will not be full to overflowing with guests.

"We started with 50 or 75 of our friends and family and before we knew it, it was up to 250 or 300," says Colwill, an interior designer and former Baltimore Museum of Art board chair.

The morning after one of the parties, he asked Gargiulo, a director at New York's John Rosselli Antiques, if he had seen anyone he actually knew the night before.

"We asked ourselves, 'What are we doing this for?' and then we spent six months trying to cut the guest list," says Colwill. He wrote to all those who didn't make the cut, saying he would make a contribution to charity in their name.

Daniel Horwitz from The Pantry takes over the kitchen, and George Lee, in his 90s, is behind the bar, serving up his popular version of the South Side cocktail.

"He bartended for my parents 50 years ago. It isn't a party without him," Colwill says.

Decorating the house "takes a village," Colwill says. It begins in mid-November when Gilbert Edwards wraps 15-20 pine trees in lights and his wife, Ruth, unpacks huge plastic bins filled with decorations. The pair helps Colwill manage the property.

Colwill and Gargiulo create marvelous mantel tableaux, and Colwill does all the flowers, including the armload of cut amaryllis that blossom from his father's Maryland Hunt Cup Steeplechase trophy.

The fireplace in the original 18th-century log-cabin room is banked with poinsettias, and the fireplace in the living room, decorated in creams and pale yellows, is banked with paperwhites.

"Sometimes we wonder why we do it, and then we have such fun with our friends that night. And it reminds me of my father," Colwill says, "who loved Christmas so much."

Chuck and Mary Kay Nabit

Chuck and Mary Kay Nabit threw two parties in historic Cedarwood on North Charles Street before they even moved in.

Since the massive renovation of the 1927 stone mansion, there have been many more, including Preakness parties and New Year's Eve parties for which invitations are coveted.

But lately, the guests — and the guest lists — have been considerably shorter.

"It's gotten to be all about the kids," says Mary Kay. Grace, 7, and Alex, 6, are the reason you will see giant holiday blow-up figures on the lawn around the 40-room mansion, which sits across the street from Notre Dame of Maryland University.

"Our house is never more fun and alive than when we have a house full of our friends and our children's friends," says Mary Kay.

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